The themes of survival and resurrection are heavily present in Auerbach’s work and resonate with him personally. At the age of seven he was taken to the UK as part of the Kindertransport programme to help Jewish children escape the Nazis. His creative talents were recognised early: at the boarding school he attended, and later at St Martin’s School of Art and the Royal College of Art, where he befriended key British artists of the time, such as Leon Kossoff and David Bomberg.
During his years as an art student in London, the city was reeling from the impact of the Second World War. Large areas had been completely destroyed in the Blitz, and the 1950s and 1960s marked a period of extensive recovery. His landscape paintings from this time fully rejected conventional notions of the natural and rural subject; they are littered with symbols of urban rebuilding.
In Auerbach to the Future, Sophie Derrick takes cues from the iconic British painter Frank Helmut Auerbach in her exploration of portraiture in the digital and painterly mediums. His expressive style and use of texture has set Auerbach apart as one of the greatest artists of the last century, breaking boundaries with his reinterpretations of traditional landscape painting and the use of paint as more than just a tool for figurative representation.
In Shell Building Site from the Thames, a crane form dominates and the deep foundations of London’s first skyscraper seem to glow outwards. In other building site landscapes, Auerbach captured the sense of reconstruction and manual labour with his heavily worked, thick layers of paint in earthly colours. For example, in Maples Demolition the character of the site is vividly expressed through the artist’s materials.
Auerbach’s technique pushed the boundaries of painting at the time, much as Sophie Derrick attempts to do now. At his first solo show at the Beaux Arts Gallery in 1956, visitors criticised his thick impasto method, finding it difficult to interpret his horizontally displayed paintings: they could not be hung up on the wall in case the paint fell off under the strain of its own weight. But it was through these heavy layers and the almost sculptural effects it created that Auerbach could communicate the mud and the sweat that was going into rebuilding the city. His substantial gestures and dense impasto went beyond the visual, in some ways reminiscent of Jackson Pollock, to create the expression and emotion of a strange and unsettling time.
Sophie Derrick ‘Auerbach to the Future’, was held at DegreeArt’s Execution Room 6th – 30th October, 2011.